30+ torture memos remain sealed while thousands of torture photos will eventually be released. Be prepared: Learn the deep history of US torture in SERE, Vietnam, Latin America, GMTO, Black Sites and beyond in American Torture.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Media & Gov't Torture Cover-up: Sen. Levin, Release the 12/01 SERE Docs

Posted by Valtin at 9:37 PM |

Something very odd occurred during the hearings last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on the use of torture against detainees. Something crucial was missed. But before we examine that, let's first examine how the so-called responsible U.S. press covered the revelations oozing out of Washington.

When the New York Times's Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane wrote their June 18 article on the testimony in the SASC hearings on torture of detainees at U.S. prison sites, they made a tremendous blunder in the very first paragraph. (At least I am going to grant it was a mistake, and not something more sinister.)

Oh yes, Mazzetti and Shane made their primary point, i.e., that the CIA was heavily involved in shaping interrogation techniques to be used at Guantanamo Bay's Naval Prison for "enemy combatants." The documents released by the SASC reveal that discussions took place on the use of various torture techniques, on hiding prisoners from the prying eyes of the International Red Cross, and on how to hide evidence of these crimes from any future investigators.

For instance, the CIA representative at a "Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting" at Guantanamo on October 2, 2002, agreed with his compatriot from the Defense Intelligence Agency, that videotaping interrogations was a bad idea. "Subject to too much scrutiny in court," says Dave Becker, the DIA man. "Even totally legal techniques will look 'ugly'," adds John Fredman of the CIA. This discussion, by the way, took place only a visit to Guantanamo by CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, along with other high Bush officials, including then-counsel to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, and David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, among others.

Returning then to the New York Times reporting on the Senate hearings, we find this opening statement (emphasis added):
When military officers at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, struggled in the fall of 2002 to find ways to get terrorism suspects to talk, they turned to the one agency that had spent several months experimenting with the limits of physical and psychological pressure: the Central Intelligence Agency.
Several months! Mazzetti, Shane, and the New York Times fact-checking office is only off by a factor of 100. Not only has the CIA been studying and "experimenting with the limits of physical and psychological pressure" for year, not months, they have been doing so for over five decades!

It would appear that the mission of the New York Times is to provide limited but essential cover for the intelligence agencies in their work. This means publishing partial truths of particular events, but lying or covering up on all essential matters that could harm the agencies.

The same kind of lying about history -- something akin to the falsification work of George Orwell's "Ministry of Truth -- pops up in Scott Shane's NYT article today on the CIA interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammad. The article repeats the lie that the CIA in 2002 -- the year that saw the invasion of Afghanistan, the stepped-up campaign to track down and apprehend "terrorists", and the planning for the invasion of Iraq -- was "an agency nearly devoid of expertise in detention and interrogation."

And yet the opposite was true: the CIA had studied the effects of abusive detention and interrogation more than almost any other agency in the government. The results of a multi-million dollar study into coercive interrogation techniques -- centered on a deconstruction of Soviet and Chinese interrogation, and adding in intense research focus on sensory deprivation, sensory overload, and the use of psychotropic drugs -- were brought together as early as 1962 by the CIA into manual form. Anyone who wishes can today read the CIA's "Kubark" manual online and convince themselves of this fact.

It is likely true that with the invasion of Afghanistan and the meglomaniacal campaign that is Bush's "global war on terror", there was a shortage of experienced interrogators in the CIA and military. As a result, officers in the field and politicians back in Washington turned to the only other governmental entity that had serious expertise in this subject: the SERE program.

SERE & the Propagation of Torture

SERE originated in the early 1950s after Air Force pilots captured in the Korean War confessed (or not, depending on whom you wish to believe) to U.S. use of biological weapons on civilian and military targets in that war. The scandal over the pilots' "confessions" (and other pro-communist statements or collaboration by POWs) led to a re-working of the language of the military's "Code of Conduct" and a crash course in the inoculation of American military personnel against so-called Communist" brainwashing".

SERE training contained abusive techniques even from the beginning. A Newsweek article on SERE from September 12, 1955 -- "Ordeal in the Desert: Making Tougher Soldiers to Resist Brainwashing" -- describes the use of isolation, imprisonment in a coffin, electroshock, lies and insults aimed race, religion and national origin, and physical abuse upon Air Force trainees, for the purpose of "stress inoculation." According to Mike Otterman's book, American Torture, brutality within SERE led to a temporary cessation of the program in the mid-1950s.

In the mid-1970s, a SERE student and Navy pilot, Wendell Young, sued the government for millions of dollars, alleging SERE training resulted in abuse and a broken back. He alleged students had been "tortured into spitting, urinating and defecating on the American flag, masturbating before guards, and, on one occasion, engaging in sex with an instructor." The Navy admitted the physical abuse (including "water torture"), but denied the sexual torture. As more was revealed, the deaths of at least two SERE students was reported during what a Navy commander described as training that amounted to "illusions of reality." (See Newsweek article, "Navy's Torture Camp", March 22, 1976 -- of course, this article is not available online, but a reference to the Young case can be found here.)

The use of SERE techniques as a template for training of interrogators in abusive methods of educing information, i.e., torture, is not anything new, either. Sergeant Donald W. Duncan, a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam, recipient of two Bronze Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Vietnamese Silver Star, the Army Air Medal, and sundry other decorations, testified at a "War Crimes" tribunal chaired by Bertrand Russell in the 1960s that SERE techniques had been taught to Special Forces interrogators for use in Vietnam. (Thanks to Mike Otterman, too, whose book drew my attention to this forgotten episode in U.S. history.)

From the Russell Copenhagen Tribunal testimony (pp.31-32) (bold emphasis added):
Duncan recounts an American instruction class for the Green Berets in "Counter-Measures to Hostile Interrogation" in which the techniques of hostile interrogation are presented in great detail but not any counter-measures, of which the instructor says there are none. A sergeant asks the instructor whether the only reason for teaching the class is for training in the use of the methods of interrogation (involving torture such as lowering of a prisoner's testicles into a jeweler's vise, mutilation, etc.). The instructor replies: "We can't tell you that, Sergeant Harrison. The Mothers of America wouldn't approve. Furthermore, we will deny that any such thing is taught or intended." D. DUNCAN, THE NEW LEGIONS 123-25 (Pocket Books ed. 1968). In his testimony before the Russell Tribunal, Duncan states that this dialogue is a word for word quote. RUSSELL TRIBUNAL, supra, at 463.
This is the history out of which the current controversies arose. One supposes that the average reporter knows none of this, but even worse, doesn't want to know about it, because the presentation of unvarnished truth by a major U.S. reporter would jeopardize his or her career. Once in awhile, a piece of the whole story is reported, but then its forgotten or never repeated, an evanescent flickering of the light behind the thick screen of media fog, quick to disappear, easily overlooked and forgotten, a moment of courageous utterance meant to salve a reporter's or editor's uneasy conscience.

What's more typical is the unconscious statement of disparate facts, which go unresearched and unexamined. Such was the case in Scott Shane's homage to a CIA "good guy" interrogator reference above. One has to go to the end of the article to find this:
But Mr. Martinez has not turned away entirely from his old world. He now works for Mitchell & Jessen Associates, a consulting company run by former military psychologists who advised the C.I.A. on the use of harsh tactics in the secret program.
Martinez, the purported interrogator of KSM, who is praised for using techniques of gaining rapport to get good information, and contrasted with those who would use torture techniques -- never mind that Martinez is introduced to KSM after he has been softened up with waterboarding, etc. -- is exposed as just another SERE-related asset, as Mitchell & Jessen have repeatedly been outed as involved in teaching torture to military interrogators, as even Scott Shane points out. But Shane only leaves this damaging piece of evidence for the end of the article, undoing the positive portrait he paints of his chosen CIA "good guy." And, of course, he never comments on the context this revelation brings to the entire piece.

The Baumgarten Revelations

Today, SERE is administratively part of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense. JPRA is tasked with "personnel recovery mission." While Senator Levin gives a fairly thorough presentation of how SERE techniques migrated to Guantanamo, including discussions and meetings and when they took place, and descriptions (at least in the documents released by the committee) of what kind of techniques were being taught, one date is inexplicably left out which Lt. Col. Baumgarten gave in his testimony. Levin concentrates upon the late July 2002 request by Richard Shiffrin, a Deputy General Counsel in the Department of Defense, for information on SERE techniques and their effects upon prisoners. (Mark Benjamin follows Levin's outline of events at his otherwise impressive "Timeline to Bush Government Torture".)

But Baumgarten's own opening statement gives a more nuanced, different story. From his statement, as published online (bold emphasis added):
My recollection of my first communication with OGC relative to techniques was with Mr. Richard Shiffrin in July 2002. However, during my two interviews with Committee staff members last year I was shown documents that indicated I had some communication with Mr. Shiffrin related to this matter in approximately December 2001. Although I do not specifically recall Mr. Shiffrin’s request to the JPRA for information in late 2001, my previous interviews with Committee staff members and review of documents connected with Mr. Shiffrin’s December 2001 request have confirmed to me the JPRA, at that time, provided Mr. Shiffrin information related to this Committee’s inquiry. From what I reviewed last year with Committee staff members, the information involved the exploitation process and historical information on captivity and lessons learned.
Now something is very strange here, as Levin's own staff appear to have documents indicating DoD was asking about SERE techniques in December 2001, eight months before the July 2002 request everyone else is concentrating on. Why this gap? My guess is that it would take us even closer to the Oval Office than Levin or anyone else wants to go at this point. Where are these documents on the December 2001 request? Why did no one on the committee question Baumgarten about this issue during the hearings?

Senator Levin, I thank you for bringing this issue to the fore, and in pursuing many relevant leads. I also thank you for the release of many important documents. But, Senator Levin, what about the request on SERE techniques made of Lt. Col. Baumgarten in December 2001. He says your staff has the documents on this; in fact, they were used to refresh his memory.

Senator Levin, release all the documents!

Also posted at Invictus and The Public Record

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Monday, June 16, 2008

At Last! Senate Hearings Tackle SERE-Inspired Torture Program

Posted by Valtin at 7:35 PM |

The Senate Armed Services Committee will be holding hearings into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. Tomorrow is part one, as Senator Levin's committee looks into the origins of U.S. aggressive interrogation techniques. A new article by AP makes clear that these techniques were approved at the highest levels, and that the resulting torture revelations were not due to the actions of a few "bad apples."

Also, on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing entitled "From the Department of Justice to Guantanamo Bay", which is the second part of its inquiry into administration lawyers, like John Yoo, and their role in writing and approving torture and guidelines for abusive interrogation.

Meanwhile, Human Rights First has a petition up, demanding that Congress ask William Haynes, former General Counsel to the Department of Defense - who "once advised the Bush Administration that waterboarding and death threats were 'legally available' options" - tough questions, bearing upon his culpability for implementing a U.S. torture program.

Before going into the nitty-gritty details of what's going to be revealed at the hearings, I want to ask the indulgence of my readers. The news as presented even by the supposed best of our newspapers and other news sources often lack the context with which we can understand the often mind-boggling revelations that rain down upon us in 21st century America. It is with that thought that I turn momentarily aside to review an important U.S. military interrogation program from the Vietnam War. Considering this history will give perspective for the revelations to come.

The Phoenix Program: Blueprint for Bush's "War on Terror"



In Jane Meyer's August 2007 article, The Black Sites: A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program, she wrote of the scramble by the military and intelligence agencies after 9/11 to cohere an intelligence program in Afghanistan. Ultimately, the U.S. would arrest tens of thousands of supposed "terrorists", many of them turned in by greedy bounty hunters; establish a network of CIA-run secret prisons; expand a rendition program, which outsourced the interrogation of torture and prisoners to third-party nations; and establish the practice of torture against so-called enemy combatants, holding them incommunicado, without hope of appeal or release (until recently, that is).

In seeking to establish their military preeminence thousands of miles from the "homeland," the U.S. government turned to history - U.S. history - for inspiration. What they re-discovered was one of the darkest episodes in that history, one which is barely known or understood in this country, and whose consequences -- not least that the perpetrators of mass torture and assassination remain at large and in positions of power -- hang like the sword of Damocles over the head of uninformed citizenry. What they "discovered" was the Phoenix Program, a counterinsurgency operation by the U.S. government and its South Vietnamese allies that specialized in torture, terror, and assassination of individuals and families suspected of giving support to the Viet Cong. In the end, tens of thousands were murdered, often in their beds or homes, their ears cut off to prove that "kill teams" had made their quota for the night.

As Mayer wrote:
On September 17, 2001, President Bush signed a secret Presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to create paramilitary teams to hunt, capture, detain, or kill designated terrorists almost anywhere in the world. Yet the C.I.A. had virtually no trained interrogators. A former C.I.A. officer involved in fighting terrorism said that, at first, the agency was crippled by its lack of expertise. “It began right away, in Afghanistan, on the fly,” he recalled. “They invented the program of interrogation with people who had no understanding of Al Qaeda or the Arab world.” The former officer said that the pressure from the White House, in particular from Vice-President Dick Cheney, was intense: “They were pushing us: ‘Get information! Do not let us get hit again!’” In the scramble, he said, he searched the C.I.A.’s archives, to see what interrogation techniques had worked in the past. He was particularly impressed with the Phoenix Program, from the Vietnam War. Critics, including military historians, have described it as a program of state-sanctioned torture and murder. A Pentagon-contract study found that, between 1970 and 1971, ninety-seven per cent of the Vietcong targeted by the Phoenix Program were of negligible importance. But, after September 11th, some C.I.A. officials viewed the program as a useful model.
The brief documentary, embedded above as a YouTube video, represents an excellent introduction to the history of the Phoenix Program. Warning: some of the images are quite graphic.

Those interested in pursuing the subject in more depth should turn to Douglas Valentine's epic work, The Phoenix Program, or to Michael Otterman's excellent summary, linking Phoenix to the later torture policies of the current administration as part of its misnamed "war on terror", American Torture.

Military Psychologists Braintrust Pentagon Torture Program

The historical context offered by the documentary frames the current situation, where the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding hearings on detainee interrogation abuse and torture. Tomorrow, former Pentagon general counsel, William “Jim” Haynes, is due to testify. According to a new article by AP:
The investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee also has confirmed that senior administration officials, including the Pentagon's then-general counsel William “Jim” Haynes, sought the help of military psychologists early on to devise the more aggressive methods – which included the use of dogs, making a detainee stand for long periods of time and forced nudity, according to officials familiar with the findings....

Rumsfeld's December 2002 approval of the aggressive interrogation techniques and later objections by military lawyers have been widely reported. But the November protests by service lawyers had not, and the interest by Pentagon civilians in military psychologists has surfaced only piecemeal....

According to the Senate committee's findings, Haynes became interested in using harsher interrogation methods as early as July 2002 when he sent a memo inquiring about a military program that trained Army soldiers how to survive enemy interrogations and deny foes valuable intelligence.

Officials who taught the methods – known as “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape,” or SERE techniques – were well schooled in the art of abusive interrogations....
According to the AP article, Haynes went to Guantanamo with Alberto Gonzales (then with the Office of Legal Counsel) and David Addington, Vice President Cheney's own chief counsel. Ultimately, Donald Rumsfeld approved a number of abusive interrogation techniques, over protests by the services's own military attorneys. (The abuse continued even after Rumsfeld's torture program was officially discontinued, as unredacted portions of Admiral Church's investigation into detainee abuse revealed a few months ago.)

The use of SERE techniques may have leaked out "piecemeal", but there have been plenty of stories about the misuse of this military program, from Katherine Eban's expose article in Vanity Fair last summer, to the Pentagon Office of the Inspector report released late last year, to a recent ACLU release of documents describing the "first on-the-ground reports of torture in Gardez, Afghanistan" by Special Operations forces utilizing SERE techniques.

If anything, the Congressional hearings are the proverbial hour late and a mile short. The revelations about abuse of U.S. torture in Afghanistan and Iraq go back to the initial arrest of John Walker Lindh in 2001. As the Phoenix Program documentary makes clear, even earlier and if anything more egregious examples of U.S. war crimes were known and vetted and then ignored, the perpetrators allowed to filter successfully through the sinews of government until the current day, and the phenomena of a Phoenix reborn, metamorphosed into a "war on terror", a campaign to save the "homeland" masking a policy of aggressive invasion, war, occupation, and torture by the leaders of this country.

While late, I welcome whatever exposure will come from these Congressional hearings. I support Human Rights First's petition drive. Only when we bring these crimes into the light of day and educate all Americans about what has been done in their name will we have half a chance of ending the barbarous policy of war, torture, and oppression, and winning over that part of the world that has, in desperation, turned to their own demagogues who preach despair and (occasional) terror in the name of a desperate hope. Such a campaign will mean we have to confront the anti-democratic elements in our own society. This fight will be hard and long, maybe as long as Bush sees his own "war on terror". This will be a war on exploitation, violence, and the manipulation of human beings. Its banner will be freedom from fear, from want, from exploitation.

Also posted at Invictus

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Core Values-- Reaffirmed

Posted by Michael Otterman at 7:58 PM |

We hold that petitioners may invoke the fundamental procedural protections of habeas corpus. The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that framework, a part of that law.

--Boumediene v. Bush (06-1195), pp 69-70

Monday, June 02, 2008

U.S. Secret Prison Ships Hold Untold Number of Detainees

Posted by Valtin at 3:11 AM |

The UK Guardian is reporting the United States is holding hundreds of detainees from its international wars on at least 17 "floating prisons" in different harbors around the world. The detainees are interrogated, and then many of them sent via extraordinary rendition to other countries for further interrogation and torture.
According to research carried out by Reprieve, the US may have used as many as 17 ships as "floating prisons" since 2001. Detainees are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations, it is claimed.

Ships that are understood to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu. A further 15 ships are suspected of having operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which has been used as a military base by the UK and the Americans.

Reprieve will raise particular concerns over the activities of the USS Ashland and the time it spent off Somalia in early 2007 conducting maritime security operations in an effort to capture al-Qaida terrorists.

At this time many people were abducted by Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in a systematic operation involving regular interrogations by individuals believed to be members of the FBI and CIA. Ultimately more than 100 individuals were "disappeared" to prisons in locations including Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantánamo Bay.

Reprieve believes prisoners may have also been held for interrogation on the USS Ashland and other ships in the Gulf of Aden during this time.
According to Reprieve's legal director, Clive Stafford Smith, the U.S. admits to holding 26,000 people without trial in various secret prisons, and Smith believes "up to 80,000 have been 'through the system' since 2001."

Smith was interviewed on May 19 by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now, and had more to say about the prison ship program (thanks to ask at Daily Kos).
And we’ve identified thirty-two prison ships, sort of prison hulks you used to read about in Victorian England, which have been converted to hold prisoners, and we’ve got pictures of them in Lisbon Harbor, for example. And these are holding prisoners around the world, as well. And there’s a bunch of proxy prisons -- Morocco, Egypt and Jordan -- where this stuff is going on. And this is a huge concern, because the world focus is on Guantanamo Bay, which really is a diversionary tactic in the whole war of terror or war on terror, whatever you’d like to call it. And actually, most of these people who have been severed from their legal rights are in these other secret prisons around the world. [bold added for emphasis]
While there may be more detainees held in other secret prisons, or Iraqi and Afghani jails and U.S. military and CIA black site prisons, the idea of prisoners held in small holds and cells for an indefinite time, out of sight of land or hope, conjurs memories of tryanny that predate the democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century. Prison ships harken back to the days of the British deportations of convicts to America and Australia, and even earlier, to the slave ships which transported the kidnapped and sold Africans into what was supposed to be eternal servitude.

So, now we will have to add secret prison ships to what Reprieve at their website calls the "global matrix of CIA torture flights and secret prisons scattered from Poland to Afghanistan."

Soon, I will be writing a rather lenghty piece about the history and current U.S. policy of targeted assassination: torture, assassination, aggressive invasion and occupation of other countries, disputed elections, out-of-control war profiteering and an oil industry raping the economy without any governmental restraints. This nation is sliding into a totalitarian nightmare. While the population is diverted by the entertainment of the mainstream election, the worst crimes are taking place, and if the many are ignorant or indolent today, the consequences tomorrow will be unable to escape.

Also posted at Invictus

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